Meet the World Handicap System

MWHSost golfers have heard that change is in the wind. The USGA Handicap System will undergo some very significant modifications sometime in early 2020. I recently became “certified” through the USGA in the new Handicap System and will share with you the most significant aspects of the new program.

If you’re not particularly concerned with the minutia of the new system, you can simply go with … the new system, like the old system, is designed to level the playing field when golfers with different skill levels compete against one and other. The old system does a good job; the new system (probably) does a slightly better job.

If you’re inclined to know a bit more, here you go.

1. The old system used the best ten of your last twenty rounds to calculate your handicap index. That result was then reduced to 96%. In the new system, your index will be based upon your best eight rounds. The result will NOT be reduced to 96%.

2. In the old system, your “course handicap” was calculated by taking your playing index, multiplying by the course slope and dividing by the average slope of all golf courses, i.e., 113. In the new system, your course handicap is calculated in exactly the same way – except that it is totally different! The new system is keyed to the total course par whereas the old system was keyed to the course “rating”. If there’s a difference between course par and course rating, you will now adjust your course handicap accordingly. For example, with the old system, if you had an index to 10.0 and you played a course with a slope of 126, your course handicap would be (126/113) times 10.0, i.e., 11. In the new system, the calculation remains the same except you now adjust for the difference between course rating and course par. If the course you’re playing is rated 69.0, you deduct an additional three strokes from the old system’s course handicap. You become an 8 handicap.

Interestingly enough, we’ve been doing this exact same thing when competitors play from different tee sets. Those playing from the more forward tees lose the difference in course rating from the two tee sets from their handicaps. With the change in the Handicap System, there will no longer be a need to adjust handicaps when playing different tee sets. The adjustment is automatic in the course handicap calculation. On the downside, in days gone by, many have been confused by the adjustments for different tees. Now everyone can be equally confused every day they play. However, there are a couple of extra considerations that make the system easier to understand and slightly more equitable. If you’re interested, ask. I’ll be happy to belabor the topic a bit more for you.

3. Many have been asking about ESC (equitable stroke control) where you have certain maximum scores you can post depending upon your handicap range. In the new system, the maximum score that may be posted for handicap purposes is “net double bogey”. For example, if you take a seven on a par three hole and you get one stroke on that hole, you are allowed to post a six, i.e., a “net double bogey”. If you take a twelve on a par five hole and you get two strokes on that hole, your posting maximum is nine, i.e., “net double bogey”.

4. Handicaps will be updated on a daily basis. The rules have always called for “timely” posting of scores. With the daily updates, “timely” takes on a new meaning. You are obliged to post on the same day as you played the round.

5. The new “World Handicap System” has a number of not so obvious features that the USGA is calling “safeguards”. I won’t get into the details of “hard caps”, “soft caps”, and the like here, but most of these features are intended to constrain the activities of those who have historically had a problem with their handicaps increasing as tournament appeared on their horizons. Some of these features are rather cute, but all you need to know at this point is that your handicap will generally be prevented from rising by more than five strokes in any given twelve month period. So, if you’re going to sandbag, plan well in advance.

One component of the new system that has raised a lot of eyebrows is the system for compensating for abnormal course conditions. If you’re playing in winds gusting to forty miles-per-hour, chances of you shooting a net 65 are pretty close to zero. The USGA will be attempting to correct postings for rounds played under such conditions. Heavy rains, locust plagues, armed insurrections, civil unrest, even cases of extremely slow play (like Friday the 18th at Camelback) may be adjusted by the USGA.

This is a noble goal and in theory possible; time will tell. But it certainly raises a lot of questions. No, they will not be checking the local weather report. They will not have a weather station on the course. Drones and satellite surveillance will not be used. At this point, you may be wondering if they’ve established a partnership with Santa Claus; after all, only he knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

To find out how they’re going to do all of this, you might also suspect the best way to find out would be to simply ask the USGA. Not so fast Ferdinand. To paraphrase their response, “it’s none of your business!” They’re trying to keep this a closely guarded secret.

As a mathematician, I’m pretty confident I can tell you exactly how they intend to do this. Frankly, I like their approach despite its minor flaws. In a nutshell, if for the past fifty days, you’ve had perfect weather. During that time period, postings have consistently hovered around say three strokes over handicap with a standard deviation of a half stroke. Then on one given day, the USGA computer looks at scores and sees they’re solidly six strokes over handicap with a standard deviation of one full stroke. Guess what … something’s amiss. There a good chance a monsoon just blew through or the laws of gravity were suspended on that day or … whatever. But from a statistical standpoint, there was very clearly an “abnormal course condition”. The USGA plans on automatically adjusting if the deviations were what they consider to be “significant”. The definition of “significant” may still be up in the air, but you’ve got the gist of their system.

There are some interesting potential consequences of this system. One I envision will occur at Camelback Golf Club where two eighteen-hole courses are played. One of those courses is reasonably rated by the Arizona Golf Association (as long as management doesn’t keep moving tees dramatically closer to holes than they were when the course was rated). The other course is – in the studied opinion of this writer – not properly rated at least from one of the common tee sets. The end result is that when golfers play Ambiente, their postings fall within the statistically expected range. However, when golfers play Padre, postings typically fall two to three strokes higher than statistically expected.

With your nominal understanding of the way the USGA will be handling “abnormal course conditions”, it will tend to have two pronounced effects. The first is that these semi-automatic adjustments to postings will tend to mitigate the consequences of an improper course rating. It’s sort of a self-correcting rating system. The other result is that meteorologists will be driven to drink heavily after seeing that the Ambiente course basks in perpetual paradise from a weather standpoint. Yet Padre will appear to be at the epicenter of a never-ending typhoon of biblical proportions. Invite someone from the USGA to play Camelback and they’ll say, “With pleasure, but only if it’s Ambiente.”

Enough said about the new WHS (World Handicap System). However, for a future topic of discussion in the Acacia Lounge, ask yourself … “Why is the USGA keeping the details of the abnormal course conditions calculation so secret?”

Camelback Links Course Opens

Great News for Camelback Equity Members – We have joined the likes of Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, and other great links courses. After last night’s rains, most holes on the Padre course run along the water. Some of them run under water.

I posted a few shots of the course taken nearly 24 hours after the downpour. If you look closely, you may notice sea otters cracking open abalone in the distance.

I live about a mile from the Padre course and last night, I enjoyed 1.7 inches of rain at the house. Yes, I now have a “links” house.

I can assure you the grounds crew team is out there busting tail, pumping water from low spots and trying to get the course ready for play. My guess is Padre will be open tomorrow, but that it will be cart path only unless you have a small dingy. Driving range – not likely. Regardless, be sure to wear your PFD.

I’ll keep an eye on the conditions and we can evaluate the situation in the morning. Nonetheless, we still have a little room if you’d like to play. In order to play, you must have a verifiable handicap and be a strong swimmer. I’ll bet we’re “lift, clean, and place.”

In the Laboratory of Golf

mad-scientistIt was “Experimental Wednesday” with the J-Golf group. We were in the golf lab on two fronts – playing under adverse conditions and dealing with human behavior and decision making.

Six four-player teams competed with sustained winds of fifteen to twenty miles per hour. Gusts reached forty miles per hour. Keeping a golf ball in a straight line was all but impossible. In some situations, just placing the ball on the putting green meant chasing it down after the wind took it east. There were times when simply remaining upright was a formidable challenge; not everyone was successful. Adjusting for wind velocity became an issue even on short putts.

In our golf laboratory, we looked at how the extreme conditions impacted golfer performance in general and in particular, which groups of golfers would be most impacted by the adverse conditions.

One school of thought held that the low handicap golfers had the most experience and would be better equipped mentally and physically to adapt. The opposing school of thought argued that low handicap players would be prone to hitting their drives much longer than high handicappers and that the longer ball flight would yield control to the whims of nature for a much longer time and offer the potential for greater disaster.

In the realm of human behavior and decision making, we threw in an experiment with pari-mutuel betting. If you’re a moralist, don’t get your knickers in a knot – this is not “gambling”; it is science. “Gambling” implies the existence of a random result. In this case, the goal of the participants was to apply all the deductive prowess available to deduce the correct outcome. It was interesting to observe that as the odds (as determined by the wager volume distribution) of any given team winning changed, the betting vectors swung wildly in one direction or another.

To provide additional control to the overall experiment, teams were created where one team had an average handicap of three, another averaged twenty-one, and others fell somewhere in between. One group’s total handicap was half the handicap of one player in a competing group.

The pre-match odds favored the lower handicap golfers. For the most part, bettors believed skill and experience would triumph. The long odds on some of the higher handicap teams did bring in some bets from those hoping for a good payout, but the two teams with the lowest handicaps dominated the betting.

So how did it work out? The results tend to support the old adage that “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”

With twenty-three golfers in the field, only two played better than their handicaps, Bob Joselyn and Scott Hull, the 22nd and 23rd ranked players in the field by handicap finished tied for first place in the low net category with 64s. On the front nine, the team with the highest total handicap finished in first place. The team with the second highest handicap finished in second place. The team with the lowest handicap came in last. The results on the back nine weren’t much different from the perspective of statistically significance. Of the seven skins won, five of those seven went to players with handicaps well above the average.

What can we conclude from these results? Frankly, probably a fair amount. However, if we’re going to try this experiment again with pari-mutuel betting, I’m not sure I want to share my conclusions. After all, I bet on the two teams with the highest handicaps. Good luck next time.

Gender War

Gender War (5 of 53)
Howard Jones and Harold Hoeg (the vanquished) and Phyllis Laschuk and Karen Stevison (the conquerors)

They bring us into the world. They nurture us, feed us, take care of us. Our first hugs come from the women we call Mom. They wipe away our tears and tend our bumps and bruises. They are our protectors, our guardians. I’m not yet sure what went wrong, but yesterday’s Gender War didn’t go according to the script.

In what has all the earmarks of an annual event, those known for having “sugar and spice and everything nice” kicked the living hell out of those of us constituted of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.”

The women squared off against the men in a series of head-to-head match play contests. The ladies prevailed. In the opening match, I faced the diminutive Phyllis Laschuk of Vancouver, British Columbia. I thought to myself, “This really isn’t fair. A man of my experience level charged with the task of abusing a wisp of a woman who would need to seek the shelter of her golf bag if the wind blew.” I only hoped I didn’t embarrass her; she seemed like such a nice girl.

After five holes, I was four down. She turned me every which way but loose as she toyed with me. She carded a gross 73 on the day and buried my hopes of winning by the 15th hole. I felt like I was at the State Fair locked in a cage with a 700 pound wrestling bear.

The day’s second match wasn’t much better for the men. Harold Hoeg, a fine golfer and an outstanding competitor tenaciously battled Karen Stevison, but by the 12th hole, found himself two down. He mounted his charge. On the difficult 12th hole, he hit an excellent drive and put his second shot within inches of the hole for a tap-in birdie. His opponent had put her second shot five yards over the green into the tall rough. Everyone knew Harold was about to get within one hole of tying the match … well, everyone except Karen. With the confidence of a street corner preacher, she announced, “Well, I guess I’ll have to run this in.”

It’s a fine line between optimism and delusion and I wasn’t sure which side of the line she was on. I knew she had to hit a pretty good shot just to get it on the green. Putting it in the hole was beyond pipe dream. She put it in the hole!

Harold had nearly eagled one of the toughest holes on the course and lost the hole to go three down with six to play. The air leaked violently from Harold’s balloon. He fought valiantly for the last six holes, but it was an exercise in futility.

Things didn’t get much better as subsequent groups turned their cards in to the scorekeeper. The only matches the men really dominated were those where one man played against another.

As the competitors warmed up on the range, one of the grounds crew captured a snake. It got away so I helped by running over and picking it up. I placed it in a box. The snake hissed at me and tried to bite me. At the time, I didn’t view the event as a portent of what was about to happen. Next time, I’ll let the snake run free and hope for the best. “Sugar and spice and everything nice”? Don’t be fooled. Put a seven-iron in her hand and you have created a ruthless predator.

Here are a few pictures from the day’s event. You can click on any of the images to enter the “slide show” mode.

Feel the Love

BigHurtIt’s pretty rare that I pen a love column on a golf related site, but circumstances leave me little choice. I recently enjoyed the ill-fortune of developing a rather severe case of “golfer’s elbow”. In reality, it’s “tennis elbow” (yes, there is a difference), but I don’t play tennis and I do play golf. You work it out from there. It’s an extremely painful and debilitating ailment with a lengthy recovery period. Frankly, it’s a bit depressing to have to stay on the sidelines while everyone else (except Chet Schwartz who has the same problem) competes on the golf links.

In my endless search for the silver lining, I have found points of light in the oppressive darkness of being on the disabled list. For example, with me out of action, Sandy Wiener can stop the financial bleeding he has experienced for years. He won’t have to pay me three times per week as his losses mount up in our longstanding personal Nassau. My golf ball expenses are down. I’ve got more time for my other pursuits.
But by and large, I’m bummed. There’s something cathartic about taking your aggression out on a tiny little ball with a big stick even if the ball usually gets the best of the contest.

The brightest light of all comes from the hearts of the players that make up our group of competitors. I’ve long said we’ve got a great bunch. That truth has become even more apparent when listening to the multitude of comments and words of encouragement in the wake of my misfortune. Not only has it been heart-warming, it has been entertaining beyond description. So many of them have offered caring suggestions as to how to treat the malaise so that I can return to golf as soon as possible. The variety of suggestions is reflected in the list below.

  • The shot – cortisone. A powerful anti-inflammatory substance painfully injected into the elbow area. This is a particularly unappealing solution for a true trypanophobe such as myself.
  • Consultation with an orthopedic surgeon. I have done this and the doctor selected prefers a very conservative approach involving six to nine months of rest followed by the possibility of surgery. This seems to call for a liberal application of common-sense, something I hold in rather short supply.
  • Acupuncture – a process involving the insertion of not one, but many needles into one’s body. Another delight for a trypanophobe, but I have not ruled it out yet.
  • Cream derived from marijuana. I now possess a small amount of this cream, but have yet to figure out how to roll it into cigarette paper.
  • Marijuana itself – this “doobie therapy” offers potential, but I fear I’d go broke stocking my shelves with Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies. I’m also led to believe it leads to frequent derailments of one’s train-of-thought and my caboose already spends enough time in a ditch below the tracks.
  • Naturopathic medicine. Hey – if it works, I’m all for it. However, I don’t know much about the topic and I’m not sure I’ve got the time to learn.
  • Contraptions – Much of the advice I received involves the acquisition of things like braces, supports, slings. Some of them I now possess. However, the various “experts” with whom I come in contact confuse the hell out of me. For example, the forearm brace I have is to be worn all day, only when trying to swing a club, tightly secured, loosely secured, or not at all – depending upon the expert doing the talking.
  • Work out regimens call for the use of a variety of devices. For example, the “Theraband Flexbar” allows me to torture myself into numbness. Admittedly, it’s not painful when you lose consciousness and that seems to be the direction this medieval device takes you.
  • Physical therapy has been recommended by some. I’m pursuing this alternative and it seems to offer some promise. However, I find it interesting that it amounts to paying someone to tell me not to do most of the other things that have been recommended while she’s massaging the damaged parts of my arm.

Other suggestions have included “don’t swing so hard”, “get new clubs”, “get new shafts”, “golf left handed”, and “give up golf altogether”. Get a curadero, a brujo, or a medicine man. At this point, the only thing I know for certain is that there’s no magic cure. It’s going to take some time.

The best part of the situation is that the pain and discomfort is minimal when compared to the comfort and happiness that comes from knowing so many members of our golf group truly care about each other and want to help when someone is suffering. We’ve got an eclectic group with people from all different backgrounds, different walks in life, a range of philosophical bents, skill levels and ages. But the one thing they all seem to share is a fundamental love for humanity. The urge to help others in need is the hallmark of a good soul and we’re fortunate to have so many of them.

A Lovely Day for a Walk

20190215 JGolf (22 of 68)Friday’s golf was as bad as Wednesday’s golf was good. They lit it up on the Ambiente course Wednesday, but it was the heart of the dark ages on the Padre course Friday. We needed one blind draw, but nearly everyone tried out for the part playing and putting as if blindfolded. The average score was more than six strokes higher than the previous match’s average. For those who believe Padre is easier than Ambiente, think again!

Nonetheless, it was a great day for a walk. Here are some of the people I found in my meanderings. It was great to see one golfer get off the injured reserve list. Pat Collins played his first round in more than three months. Welcome back.

As usual, a click on an image enlarges it and puts you in the slide show mode.